How to be a Solo Traveler

Wanted to share my first Buzzfeed Community post.

How To Be A Solo Traveler

You’ve decided to take the most important journey of your life.

1. Pack everything you think you need and then leave half of that at home.

Pack everything you think you need and then leave half of that at home.

QDKFQSZ / Via qdkfqsz.com

 2. Book your hostel.

Book your hostel.

Hostelworld / Via italian.hostelworld.com

Instant Groove! Party Hostel, Budapest

3. Get there the cheapest way, even if it’s the slowest. Picturesque train journeys are always a win.

Get there the cheapest way, even if it’s the slowest. Picturesque train journeys are always a win.

National Geographic Travel / Via travel.nationalgeographic.com

Flam Railway, Norway

4. Don’t make any plans. You don’t actually know what you want to do.

Don't make any plans. You don't actually know what you want to do.

Brennan Suen / Via bsuen.com

… except maybe that one thing you always wanted to do or that one thing your friend told you that you’d love. Plan to do that one (even if it’s super touristy).

Schönbrunn Palace, Vienna

5. Make friends with a stranger immediately.

How To Be A Solo Traveler

Tumblr / Via mashable.com

Decide whether said stranger will be a good companion and if so determine to do everything with him or her.

6. Go on a tour with your hostel and make friends with even more strangers. Get to know your way around.

Go on a tour with your hostel and make friends with even more strangers. Get to know your way around.

Brennan Suen / Via bsuen.com

“Look mom – I made friends abroad!”

Stockholm, Sweden

7. Figure out what you actually want to do and do it.

Figure out what you actually want to do and do it.

Brennan Suen / Via bsuen.com

Széchenyi Baths, Budapest

8. If you can’t figure it out, ask.

If you can't figure it out, ask.

Brennan Suen / Via bsuen.com

“Oh Diplo is in town? Do tell me more.”

Mosebacketerrassen, Stockholm

9. If you still can’t figure it out, find art.

If you still can't figure it out, find art.

Brennan Suen / Via bsuen.com

East Side Gallery, Berlin

10. Or an abandoned place to explore.

Or an abandoned place to explore.

Brennan Suen / Via bsuen.com

Beelitz-Heilstätten, Germany

11. Or nature to wander.

Or nature to wander.

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Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia

12. Or really whatever presents itself to you.

How To Be A Solo Traveler

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(Make outs not guaranteed).

13. Go for a night out where the locals go.

Go for a night out where the locals go.

Brennan Suen / Via bsuen.com

… or wherever the people in your hostel are feeling. Don’t be afraid to ask for recommendations!

Chez Georges Wine Cellar, Paris

14. Stay out late even though you have a train to catch in the morning.

How To Be A Solo Traveler

Tumblr / Via miscgifs.tumblr.com

You can sleep on the train!

15. Ask everyone you met to add you on Facebook or for their emails, even if it seems awkward at the time.

How To Be A Solo Traveler

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You may end up traveling together or visiting each other later on your trip.

16. Let them know when you’re in their countries. You might even have a place to stay.

Let them know when you're in their countries. You might even have a place to stay.

Brennan Suen / Via bsuen.com

Seven Rila Lakes, Bulgaria

17. Make that train in the morning, even though you didn’t sleep.

Make that train in the morning, even though you didn't sleep.

Anna Janicka / Via forexsocialtraders.com

… or if it’s right, just skip it. Maybe there’s more you need to do.

18. Sleep when you can.

Sleep when you can.

Kurisurokku / Via news.com.au

That probably means on your train.

19. Blog about what you want people to know that you did.

How To Be A Solo Traveler

Iken Dust / Via ikendust.be

Even though most of your Facebook friends aren’t going to read it, it’s important to keep track of your journey for yourself too!

And your mom will love it.

20. And Skype your friends to tell them what you really did.

How To Be A Solo Traveler

Hello Giggles / Via hellogiggles.com

“I don’t even know what language he was speaking in, but he was so hot.”

21. Book your next hostel and get ready to do it all over again!

Book your next hostel and get ready to do it all over again!

Brennan Suen / Via bsuen.com

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Vegetarian Cooking: Tofu Tacos!

Final

Since I moved back to DC, I’ve started eating vegetarian again (with fish and seafood on occasion) and taking a more comprehensive approach to being healthy by working out and cooking the majority of my meals. This Tofu Taco recipe is one of my favorites and tastes better than any beef or chicken tacos I’ve ever had, although I can’t compare it to my favorite dish in the world, fish tacos. This is an extremely easy recipe and makes enough to feed 4-6 people (or yourself for days) and can easily be adjusted to fit vegan diets.

An aside, most vegetarians and others seem to have strong opinions on tofu and soy and its health benefits/environmental impact. I enjoy soy as a nice protein boost and meat substitute, but I suggest only buying organic because non-organic soy has been processed with a controversial solvent called hexane.

Tofu Tacos

Cooking Time: 45 minutes to press the tofu, 15 to cook

Ingredients:

1 package Organic Extra Firm Tofu
1 can corn
1 can black beans
1/2 onion, diced
1 bell pepper, sliced (I use one half orange and one half red)
1/2 bag spinach (or more depending on preference)
Cumin to taste
Cayenne pepper to taste
Chili powder to taste
Salt and pepper to taste
Corn tortillas

Optional:
Greek yogurt
Avocado
Salsa
Hot sauce
Mexican cheese blend

Preparing the Tofu:

If you’ve never made tofu at home, the first thing you need to know how to do is press and dry the tofu. You can do this for 30-45 minutes before cooking, but sometimes I will leave it out for an hour or so if I have the time.

I use Trader Joe's Extra Firm Organic Tofu

I use Trader Joe’s Extra Firm Organic Tofu. Slit open the sides and drain the water out.

Slice the tofu into 1/2" slices in the container

Slice the tofu into 1/2″ slices in the container.

Put down a cloth towel on a hard surface (I use a baking sheet) and lay paper towels three thick on top. Place the tofu slices on top of the paper towels.

Put down a cloth towel on a hard surface (I use a baking sheet) and lay paper towels three thick on top. Place the tofu slices on top of the paper towels.

Place three more paper towels on top of the tofu slices and cover with the other half of the cloth towel.

Place three more paper towels on top of the tofu slices and cover with the other half of the cloth towel.

Put a hard, flat surface on top of the towels (I used a wooden cutting board) and place heavy objects on top to press the tofu. This will help the towels soak up the water.

Put a hard, flat surface on top of the towels (I used a wooden cutting board) and place heavy objects on top to press the tofu. This will help the towels soak up the water.

Replace the paper towels after about 30-40 minutes. I may do this twice if I am frying the tofu, but it isn't completely necessary with this recipe.

Replace the paper towels after about 20 minutes. I may do this twice if I am frying the tofu, but it isn’t completely necessary with this recipe.

After about 30-45 minutes, the tofu should have lost a lot of its moisture and is ready for the recipe.

Cooking the Taco Filling:

Grill the veggies in oil until lightly browned.

Grill the veggies in oil until lightly browned.

Ground up the tofu and mix in with the grilled veggies.

Ground up the tofu and mix in with the grilled veggies.

Open and drain your beans and corn. I use Trader Joe's Whole Kernel Corn and Cuban Style Black Beans.

Open and drain your beans and corn. I use Trader Joe’s Whole Kernel Corn and Cuban Style Black Beans.

Add the beans and corn.

Add the beans and corn.

Add in a handful or two of spinach. You can really go crazy with it because it cooks down so much.

Add in a handful or two of spinach. You can really go crazy with it because it cooks down so much.

Continue mixing the ingredients together.

Continue mixing the ingredients together.

Add seasoning to taste. You will probably use more than you think you do so don't be shy, especially with the cumin and chili powder. This really gives it that tex-mex taste. You can also use a package of pre-made taco seasoning, but I like knowing exactly what ingredients I am using.

Add seasoning to taste. You will probably use more than you think you do so don’t be shy, especially with the cumin and chili powder. This really gives it that tex-mex taste. You can also use a package of pre-made taco seasoning, but I like knowing exactly what ingredients I am using and premade seasoning may contain additives, etc.

IMG_0847

A blurry, up-close photo of what your taco filling should look like when done.

Assembling the Tacos:

So far, the recipe is totally vegan. You can leave out the Greek yogurt and cheese if you want to keep the recipe free of animal products.

Clear the pan (or use a new one). Take a corn tortilla and cook it on one side for a minute or so before flipping. Add cheese and cook until the other side starts to brown and the cheese begins to melt.

Clear the pan (or use a new one). Take a corn tortilla and cook it on one side for a minute or so before flipping. Add cheese and cook until the other side starts to brown and the cheese begins to melt.

Add the taco filling on top of the cheese.

Add the taco filling on top of the cheese.

Add a dollop of salsa and Greek yogurt and a couple of slices of avocado. I also use hot sauce.

Add a dollop of salsa and Greek yogurt and a couple of slices of avocado. I also use hot sauce.

Final product! You can make the toppings look like the Hungarian or Bulgarian flag if you wish (this one is Hungary)!

Final product! You can make the toppings look like the Hungarian or Bulgarian flag if you wish (this one is Hungary)!

You can also use the filling on nachos or add it to mac and cheese or any other dish you like. Hope you enjoy these tacos as much as I do!

Mom and SUEN take New Orleans (Dec. 4-7 Part 2)

Mom and me at the Christmas Parade

Mom and me at the Christmas Parade

Egg in a Jar at Lüke

Egg in a Jar at Lüke

The next morning, mom and I hit up our final Besh restaurant, Lüke. I ordered the ultra-rich Egg in a Jar, which consisted of poached eggs, grits, fried shrimp and a cream sauce. Mom ordered Shrimp and Grits, which was relatively similar except non-fried shrimp and a tomato based sauce. The meal continued the trend of unbelievable food in New Orleans and me feeling sick to my stomach after eating past my limits (it’s hard to stop when it tastes so good!).

We had originally planned on going on a walking tour of the French Quarter until we learned about a Christmas parade going through town that we decided was worth seeing. We sat on the curb of Canal St. for hours watching floats and dancers pass by.

We took a long walk to get to the French Market, which had a large variety of knick-knacks, flea market goods and foods. I tried an alligator dog that was excellent. Our feet were pretty tired after the walk, so we left to go back to our hostel for another break before dinner.

Christmas parade float

Christmas parade float

Our final meal in New Orleans was at the famous Pascale’s Manale, which many people had said would be disappointing – it certainly wasn’t! Although the service was very slow (it was understaffed for sure), the Barbeque Shrimp was a messy delight – they gave us each a paper bib, which was truly necessary – and the Frutta Del Mare (seafood pasta) was filled to the brim with seafood. We left again unable to eat dessert.

Mom getting messy eating some famous Barbeque Shrimp from Pascale's Manale

Mom getting messy eating some famous Barbeque Shrimp from Pascale’s Manale

Mom wanted to go to bed early that night, but I was keen on going out for a last time in New Orleans, so I went to the common outside area of the hostel and met a group of Irish guys traveling through the South together and a guy from Quebec who I would go out with. We started with a live charity concert at Freret Street PUBLIQ HOUSE, where the boyfriend of the lead singer proposed on stage (my response: “could anything more American happen than a public proposal in front of a bunch of strangers?” – Europe got me too sarcastic).

We left PUBLIQ and cabbed to Bourbon Street where we drank more and danced a bit. The boys and a female bartender legitimately forced me to take a shot out of bartender’s breasts, which served as my coming out moment: “No really, I don’t want to – I’m gay,” I said as she grabbed my head and pulled it towards her chest. They all laughed when I told her that was as close as I’d ever been (or wanted to be) to boobs. I’m sure I’m the first guy she’s ever had to force to take shots from her. At 2 a.m. I got a text from my mom asking if I was alive; I reassured her that I’d make it home safely. I got back at 4 and my mom asked me if this was what it was like when I traveled.

The St. Louis Cathedral next to Jackson Square

The St. Louis Cathedral next to Jackson Square

“Occasionally…”

Mom and I left early the next morning after one of our best bonding experiences ever. I can forever say I successfully got my mom to take a shot of Fireball AND that she knows all the steps to the “Cupid Shuffle.”

Love you mom!

Mom and Son take New Orleans (Dec. 4-7 Part 1)

Mom and I take Bourbon!

Mom and I take Bourbon!

My travel bug officially came with me to America in the form of a mother-son road trip to New Orleans.

Mother and I left early on Thursday on a spill-all seven-hour bonding car ride. I’m only half kidding. More importantly, there were no fights (although I did plead with her to please drive just a little bit over the speed limit).

Doing the "Cupid Shuffle"

Mom doing the “Cupid Shuffle” on Bourbon Street

When booking our trip, even the least expensive hotel in New Orleans’ French Quarter was about $160 a night with tax and all. My mom and I both felt a bit of guilt about spending that much money, especially when I was used to spending absolute maximum $30 for a night abroad, so I decided to look into hostels. I was lucky enough to find a private room at India House Backpackers for only $30 a person per night, adding up to about the cost of one night at the Best Western in the French Quarter.

Mom and I arrived at India House at approximately 4:30 in the afternoon, at which point she got really excited about how not-a-dump the hostel was and called at least three people to brag about my travel guide and money saving skills. I was just excited to hear an Australian accent again in the courtyard. I did notice that the hostel had a pretty awesome vibe and layout, with many buildings surrounding a large courtyard.

Oh I guess now is a good time to note that the weather was minimum 70 degrees during the day and absolutely perfect, a welcome change to the chillier weather I had been experiencing for the past who-knows-how-long.

Oysters

Oysters Rockefeller at Felix’s Oyster Bar.

We put our things down in the hostel and took the street car (taking public transportation was another point of excitement for mother) down to the French Quarter for an early dinner. We were deciding between Acme Oyster House, which was recommended by loads of people, and Felix’s Oyster Bar, which was recommended by my dad. Acme is a little better known, so we headed there first only to find that it was booked for a private party. Felix’s it would be.

We sat at the bar and promptly ordered a half dozen raw oysters and a dozen Oysters Rockefeller, which were all gone in a matter of minutes. We made a second order consisting of fried crawfish tails and a half dozen char-grilled oysters. The massive amounts of seafood would be a trend in our New Orleans food-ventures.

Preservation Hall. Photo by Encyclopedia Britannica (photos not allowed)

Preservation Hall. Photo by Encyclopedia Britannica (photos not allowed)

After my stomach couldn’t take another oyster, mom and I headed to the 8pm jazz show at Preservation Hall, a New Orleans must-do. It’s important that you get to the venue at least 30 minutes early – it’s a small place and I ended up sitting up front on the floor. The 45-minute jazz show was a total treat, if not too short, and had me tapping my toes even though I was sitting cross-legged on the floor.

Mom joined the band!

Mom joined the band!

My mom thought she’d want to go home after the show, considering we’d had a long day in the car and a big dinner, but we both had a resurgence of energy listening to the brassy sounds of southern jazz. It became clear to me that it would be a good time to check out Bourbon St., mother-son style!

Mom and I had quite a few drinks together, including the notorious NOLA Hand Grenade and her first ever Fireball shot. We caught live music, checked out street bands, listened to some jazz and even went dancing in a club (I take credit for teaching mom the “Cupid Shuffle”). We left at a reasonable midnight – a little late for mom and a little early for me.

Complimentary appetizer at Chef John Besh's August

Complimentary appetizer at Chef John Besh’s August

Friday morning, mom and I woke up for lunch at one of famous chef John Besh’s restaurants, August. This would be a strong continuation of the incredible New Orleans cuisine we would eat and probably our favorite. The waiter brought us a complementary egg dish that I can only describe as some sort of egg-whip-mousse. It was a fantastic start to our meal. I ordered the $20.15 prix fixe menu (only on Fridays), which is pretty much an unbelievable deal for the caliber of the restaurant. I started with crab bisque, had a fish entrée and finished off with a butterscotch custard. My mom got a cauliflower dish that was unbelievable and we both split the very rich and very small crab and black truffle gnocchi as an appetizer.

Lafayette Cemetery #1in the Garden District

Lafayette Cemetery #1in the Garden District

From August, mom and I left to go to the Garden District for a tour with New Orleans Free Tours by Foot. This is pretty much a must-do for any first-time visitors (or even residents) to get a good feel for the area and some interesting New Orleans history. We started in Lafayette Cemetery #1 and made our way through what may be the most beautiful residential area of New Orleans. The group offers a series of other tours, and we regretted not being able to make more of them. After the tour was over, mom and I strolled an extra couple of blocks to see the building used as Miss Robichaux’s Academy in American Horror Story: Coven.

Miss Robichaux's Academy from Coven

Miss Robichaux’s Academy from Coven

We went back to the French Quarter to get the best pralines in town from Magnolia Praline Company, which made great gifts for our family. Speaking of gifts, some of the best foods in New Orleans can be taken home, such as our new favorite hot sauce, Love Potion No. 9, and olive salad (Central Grocery is famous for its version of the tapenade). We stopped in a bar for a couple of beers, which we were able to finish on the street with New Orleans’s lack of open container laws, and some fried oysters and okra.

Fish in a Bag at Borgne

Fish in a Bag at Borgne

After a short rest at the hostel, mom and I left for another Besh restaurant called Borgne. There was some high school football event going on in the nearby Superdome, so the place was absolutely filled with rowdy football parents, but they cleared out in time for my mom and I to enjoy a conversation that we could actually hear. We ordered the duck poppers for an appetizer; mom ordered a fried oyster wedge salad and I got the fish in a bag and a side of creamed corn. Everything was top notch, so much so that I unfortunately didn’t have room to order dessert.

Meeting up with Katie and her sister at Café du Monde

Meeting up with Katie and her sister at Café du Monde

My friend Katie happened to be in town with her sister that night, so I separated from my mom after dinner (she was very proud to be able to find the hostel herself using public transportation – go mom!) and met Katie at Café du Monde. Mom and I had stopped there briefly on our first night for a café au lait and beignets, and I was too full to eat anything more, but it was great catching up with Katie after a long time and meeting her sister who lives in Louisiana for the first time.

Decaying Berlin: Beelitz-Heilstätten (Nov. 4)

Laundry vents

Vents in the old laundry facility

Arches in the gardens

Arches in the gardens

Beelitz-Heilstätten is an abandoned sanitarium and hospital complex just an hour outside of Berlin. Opened in 1902, it started as a tuberculosis sanitarium until WWI and WWII, when it was used to treat wounded soldiers. Its most famous resident, Adolf Hitler, spent months of his youth during WWI in its dorms and hospital.

Men's Pavilion

Men’s Pavilion

From 1945 until 1995, Soviet forces occupied Beelitz-Heilstätten, even after Germany reunited in 1990, and it saw its total abandonment in 2000. Since then, the vast majority of its buildings have been retaken by nature and remained totally unused.

Exploring the complex, you will find residence halls, recreation buildings, hospitals and surgery centers, laundry and kitchen facilities, an old theater-style classroom and more. The whole place is covered with graffiti, overgrowth, broken glass, peeling wallpaper – all the signs of decay. Many of the buildings’ doors and windows are left wide-open, just asking for visitors.

Literally killer graffiti. Photo credit: Jesse Martin

Literally killer graffiti. Photo credit: Jesse Martin

Blue paint peeling off the walls of an old grand staircase

Blue paint peeling off the walls of an old grand staircase

Old Soviet icon painted in the Men's Pavilion gym

Old Soviet icon painted in the Men’s Pavilion gym

Others, like the men’s pavilion, have been boarded up extensively. We circled the building multiple times, testing out wooden windows and other cracks before finding a loose opening into the basement. Skeptical, we wandered into a short maze of darkness and pipes, crouching all the way.

We made our way through the basement for 15 eerily quiet minutes, thinking it may not be connected to the main building, before finally finding a staircase leading to a communist-era Russian gym, old slogans and icons painted on its walls.

Statue of communist soldier in front of the Men's Pavilion

Statue of communist soldier in front of the Men’s Pavilion

An old operating table with grooves to let bodily fluids (i.e. blood) leak down

An old operating table with grooves to let bodily fluids (i.e. blood) leak down

Jumping out of the window

Jumping out of the window

We spent most of the day without seeing anyone else – it wasn’t until we made our way to the women’s tuberculosis treatment quadrant that we found a few other explorers and photographers making their way through (the place is split into four quadrants with the town’s metro stop at the center).

At one point we walked across a clear sidewalk towards the largest hospital building. On our return, a padlock on one of the buildings had been unlocked and outside the door was a sack of flour. We assumed that it must have been some sort of caretaker going in if he or she could open the lock. It wasn’t long before we realized the use of the flour: giant symbols, including a swastika, had been drawn on the sidewalk with flour. I kicked around the flour forming the swastika, making it unrecognizable before we got out of there.

An old operating room, wall and windows gone

An old operating room, wall and windows gone

The attic walls of an old home in Beelitz crumbling to see an open sky

The attic walls of an old home in Beelitz crumbling to see an open sky

As if Beelitz-Heilstätten wasn’t creepy on its own, it was the site of several murders, the most recent being only six years ago.

An old piano with no strings

An old piano with no strings

After six hours of urban exploration at its finest – crouching through cracks, jumping out of windows, even falling through chair risers in a classroom – the three of us left as darkness fell. We wouldn’t want to be there in the cold, dark night.

A map of Beelitz-Heilstätten. Photo credit: Abandoned Berlin

A map of Beelitz-Heilstätten. Photo credit: Abandoned Berlin

What looks like a forest is really the roof of a five story concrete building, taken over by nature.

What looks like a forest is really the roof of a five story concrete building, taken over by nature.

This graffiti seems to be framed by an old window frame

This graffiti seems to be framed by an old window frame.

Broken Windows

Exterior IMG_0022

The wall of an old classroom/theater

The wall of an old classroom/theater

Madrid: The End of a Long Journey (Nov. 10-16)

Retiro Park

Retiro Park

I arrived in Madrid late with an anxious feeling about getting into a city for the last time of my journey. But I guess mostly I just wanted to get to a place where I could dump my stuff – a common feeling of any backpacker between cities. I would be staying at my friend Katelyn’s flat, an American I spent a few days traveling in the South of France with, although she wouldn’t be back from New York until the next morning. Her roommates let me in just before 1 am.

I slept in on Tuesday and decided to take a bit of a rest day. I’ve said it before that when traveling is your life, you can’t just go go go without taking days or time off, and this would be my first time not staying in a hostel in weeks. After hours of resting, next-door pizza, television and writing, I left for dinner with two friends from high school who were teaching English in Madrid.

Sam Claflin at the Hunger Games premiere in Madrid

Sam Claflin at the Hunger Games premiere in Madrid

On the way to the restaurant, El Tigre (which serves free tapas with drink purchases), I noticed a huge crowd around a movie theater off of Madrid’s main street, Gran Via, and a large screen showing a red carpet. Apparently the new Hunger Games movie was having a small premiere there, and the super hot guy playing Finnick was standing outside flashing his sexy smile for the cameras. Not sure if there were any other celebrities there, but I was happy with him.

It was great catching up with Michelle and Kate after so many years (I had eaten lunch with Michelle in December but hadn’t really seen her or Kate otherwise since graduation), and El Tigre was a really fun (albeit very fried and greasy) place to have dinner. For about €8, I had two sangria-like drinks and a beer and all the potatoes, bread, meat and croquetas I could eat.

Wednesday was probably my most productive day, waking up at noon and heading to a popular sandwich chain called 100 Montaditos for lunch. I caught a 2pm walking tour, which was one of the better ones I’d been on. The guide was really awesome and made it easy to pay attention to 2.5 hours of history. Usually I find myself tuning out a little bit (being tired, on my feet and distracted in a new place don’t generally help me focus), but he’d talk for 20 minutes and I’d realize that I actually was keeping up with the whole story.

Sabatini Gardens and the Royal Palace

Sabatini Gardens and the Royal Palace

After the tour, I met up with my friend Adi, a Spanish girl whom I met in Marseille. She would be the fourth friend from my time there for me to meet up with. Adi and I walked around a few cool neighborhoods in Madrid, stopping for coffee and a drink at a cool café/bar and for a nice dinner at a restaurant called Lateral. I then headed to grab drinks with my friend Roope from Finland and ended up out until 3 drinking lots of red wine, which is not normally my style but is a must in Spain.

Kate, me and Michelle in the Plaza del Sol

Kate, me and Michelle in the Plaza del Sol

I took Thursday mostly off again due to the late night, getting lunch with Katelyn and again catching up on some writing and television. Thursdays in Europe had been American Horror Story days since its airtime in America is equivalent to 5am in most of Europe. That night, I met up with Katelyn and her friends for my first ever poker night, where I won €20. I felt pretty good about that.

Friday was much more productive – I left early afternoon to check out the Sabatini Gardens and the gay district of Madrid, Chueca. There wasn’t really much going on there, it being the middle of the afternoon and all (“siesta” time is 2-5 or so and a lot of places are closed then), but it was nice to see the area.

Us with the symbol of Madrid, a bear and a tree. The guy we asked to take a photo cut off the top of the statue, obviously unaware why we wanted the photo.

Us with the symbol of Madrid, a bear and a tree. The guy we asked to take a photo cut off the top of the statue, obviously unaware why we wanted the photo.

I met up with Michelle and Kate for a fantastic dinner at a hip spot called La Musa, which had a weird combination of Spanish tapas and Japanese fusion dishes, all of which were delicious. We got the guacamole (you mash it yourself and it was perfect), empanaditas (Asian dumplings affectionately translated as “little empanadas”), California roll, a plate with a well-seasoned selection of meat and shrimp, croquetas and red wine. In true Spanish/European fashion, we took our time with our meal and ended up ordering another bottle of wine after we had finished our food. We sat and talked post-entrees, sipping away at our bottle of wine before ordering dessert. I had carrot cake, which is one of my favorites and didn’t disappoint, while the girls split a chocolate brownie and cheesecake. Delicious all the way round.

Roope and Me

Roope and Me

After dinner, we taxied over to one of Kate and Michelle’s friend’s apartments for pre-drinks, my friend Roope and some of his friends from Croatia coming there to meet us. I randomly met this girl who I went to camp with ten years ago who was also teaching in Madrid and knew Michelle and Kate – always interesting the people you run into in the world! After some drinking games and conversation, we all left for a club called La Nuit. One of the girls knew someone at the bar and was able to get us table service for about €12 each. I figured it was probably my last night out in Europe, so I dropped €60 on taxis, dinner and drinks, which really isn’t that bad (especially considering I’d won €20 the night before!). I ended up getting home probably at 5:30 in the morning, but we didn’t leave for the club until probably 2 – the schedule in Madrid is pretty wild. There’s a reason they have “siesta” time!

Predrinking before going out

Predrinking before going out

I got up late on Saturday and went to get my first Mexican food in months with Michelle and Kate. We walked around for a while after, Michelle getting some well-needed shopping in and buying a cape. I made fun of her by pretending to toss my hair back a bit as she had done to get it out of the way, and the store attendant laughed out loud. I felt pretty accomplished with that one. I got another pizza from the place next door to Katelyn’s flat for dinner and then went to watch The Fault in Our Stars with Roope. I didn’t cry, although I cried a lot reading the books – maybe the movie was a bit more boring and the characters less charming. Nevertheless, it was nice to have a relaxing last night abroad.

I woke up on the last day of my journey with the bittersweet feeling that comes with the end. I knew I’d want to take advantage of my last day, but I would feel the empty feeling of parting ways with something I loved throughout.

Me and my favorite (and now lost) hat in El Rastro market

Me and my favorite (and now lost) hat in El Rastro market

I met up with Kate and Michelle at the El Rastro Sunday Market in La Latina. The market was really busy but had some great finds, including a green wool brimmed hat that I fell in love with, bought and promptly lost in my taxi getting back to Chicago. I was obviously extremely upset about losing my favorite souvenir and European style statement from abroad. I did make it home with all the things I bought my friends and family, though, including a tapestry for my friend’s birthday, some pottery and some baby shoes for my niece.

Later I would walk around Retiro Park alone, getting some time to reflect on my travels while looking at another stunning European park. After about an hour, it was time for my to go home and gather my things before making my way to the airport and the following 26-hour lonely journey home.

Madrid was a great choice to end my travels on and remains a place I would love to spend more time in. Oh Europe, how I miss you.

Retiro Park

Retiro Park

Poland: Warsaw (Nov. 8-10)

Stare Miasto in Warsaw. Photo credit: Bitcoin Examiner

Stare Miasto in Warsaw. Photo credit: Bitcoin Examiner

We arrived in Warsaw late at night and basically made our way to the boondocks for this hostel in the middle of nowhere called Hostel Krokodyl. We had made our reservations at the last minute and were unable to get any of the better-located hostels. After dropping off our stuff at the hostel, we went to the hostel we would be staying in the following night, Hostel Oki Doki, where we thought we might run into some friends from our hostel in Krakow. We didn’t, but after a beer each, Josh and I headed to another Pijalnia Wódki (the shot bar we went to in Krakow) for a couple of drinks before heading back to the hostel.

The next morning, we moved our stuff over to Oki Doki and went for lunch at a really nice restaurant called Aioli. Poland is pretty cheap, and even though it was a pretty hip place, I was able to get a shrimp salad, a soda, a mojito and dessert for about $18.

Inside Aioli. Photo credit: Taste Affair

Inside Aioli. Photo credit: Taste Affair

Josh and I explored Old Town and New Town for a bit, stopping to grab a waffle and meeting a middle-aged American couple who were living in Italy. I was a little embarrassed because they started talking to us after eavesdropping on my criticism of the GOP, and I think they were quite moderate voters… Probably should just shut my mouth after that but midterm results were fresh on my mind.

Josh was feeling sick, so after a short while walking around, we went back to the hostel to relax for a bit.

When I had first gotten into Warsaw, my Facebook reminded me that a friend I had met in Marseille lived in Warsaw, so I sent him a message and arranged for him to meet up with me and Josh for dinner. Karol knew a lot about Polish history and the city and gave us some insight into the political climate of the country.

After dinner, Josh and I went to the hostel for an early night, although I was kept up for hours by a couple of loud snorers in the room. I would periodically cough really loud to get them to stop momentarily, but it was never enough. Snoring dormmates are one of the major backpacker struggles.

Josh left early the next morning to head back to London, saying goodbye after 20 days meeting up in five countries throughout the summer. I slept in a little bit and grabbed the cheapest breakfast at Aioli – $3 for a fancy salmon on brioche with rocket, yogurt and a cappuccino (gotta love Polish prices).

Inside the Uprising Museum. Photo credit: In Your Pocket

Inside the Uprising Museum. Photo credit: In Your Pocket

I decided to spend the hours before my evening flight at the Uprising Museum, which ended up being a huge mistake. The museum itself is really nice, and in the time I had there had some interesting stuff, but I waited two hours in line to get in and an additional hour for a six-minute movie I had paid for. I don’t know if it was because Polish Independence Day was the next day or if its always so busy, but I only had about 30 minutes to peruse the museum and most of that time was spent being frustrated at how long I had to wait to see any of it. I left and ran back to my hostel to get my things before I would catch a bus to the airport, which was 45 minutes away and not the main Warsaw airport (because Ryan Air is the worst).

Except when I had asked about the bus the day before, the hostel staff just told me where to catch it and didn’t tell me that I had to book online before. Upon hearing this news, I tried to get a spot but it was all sold out, forcing me to spend $45 on a taxi to the airport. I was obviously pretty frustrated with the hostel for leaving out such an important detail, but I had to make it to the airport and had no other choice.